By JOHN BOSCHINI
With all the fanfare surrounding the hiring of Martin Rennie as the coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps, it's easy to forget he's still in prime position to win the NASL title with the Carolina Railhawks.
Anything but a spectacular collapse sees Carolina securing the top seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs. The only team with even the slightest hope of catching Carolina is the Puerto Rico Islanders, but the 2010 champions face a nine-point deficit having played a game more.
The bottom two teams in the NASL meet in Montreal this weekend as the Impact takes on the Atlanta Silverbacks. Montreal is nine points out of sixth place while Atlanta is 13 adrift. Neither team has scored much this season, scoring only 19 goals apiece in 20 games.
FC Edmonton has had a rotten couple of weeks, losing five-straight games, but is still in a good position to make the playoffs. If Edmonton can find a win against Fort Lauderdale it will all but assure a playoff spot and put the Strikers back down into sixth place.
Two clubs secure in their playoff spots take each other on when NSC Minnesota and Tampa Bay meet on Saturday. Both teams could mount a charge on second place should Puerto Rico stumble.
Here is a look ahed at all the action in the NASL over the weekend:
NSC Minnesota Stars at FC Tampa Bay (Saturday, 7 p.m.)
After a stellar July campaign, FC Tampa Bay is a surprising third place with just a handful of games to go. After being quiet most of the season, Tampa Bay is also the league's second-highest scoring offense with 31 goals.
Minnesota has consistently been hovering around the 2-4 spot in the NASL standings and that doesn’t look likely to change anytime soon. A win would see the Stars back up to third in the standings.
Carolina Railhawks at Puerto Rico Islanders (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.)
The two sides face off on Saturday in their third meeting of the season. Puerto Rico actually handed Carolina its first loss of the season on opening day but the Railhawks dominated Puerto Rico 3-0 in May.
Carolina will once again rely on the potent attacking duo of Etienne Barbara and Pablo Campos, who have combined for 24 goals during the season. Jonathan Fana and his eight goals takes control of the Islanders' offense, which could have some success against Carolina's defense.
Fort Lauderdale Strikers at FC Edmonton (Sunday, 6 p.m.)
FC Edmonton has finally started playing like the expansion side everyone thought they were before the season kicked off. The defense is the main problem, allowing 13 goals during the five-game losing streak.
Should Fort Lauderdale win and Montreal lose, the Strikers will open up a 15-point lead with just eight games left in the season. Also be on the lookout for Eduardo Coudet, who has surprised people with six goals this season.
Atlanta Silverbacks at Montreal Impact (Sunday, 6 p.m.)
After flirting with making a playoff push during July, the Montreal Impact and the Atlanta Silverbacks are in dire straits and both face a must-win game.
Atlanta has played well against Montreal this season, and the Impact seems to be turning its attention to next season's MLS campaign, leaving this year’s NASL season as a lost cause.
What do you think of this weekend's games? Can Puerto Rico take down Carolina? Excited to see if Atlanta can take down Montreal? Are FC Edmonton and Fort Lauderdale locks for the playoffs?
Share your thoughts below.